Nonfiction

The Trouble With Broga

23 February 2015

While pacing slowly around the room and making sure our knees were locked and butts high in the air, my yoga instructor gave us a friendly reminder: “Don’t forget there’s a free broga class for men this Father’s Day.”

Thank God I was in downward dog so no one could see my violent eye-roll. There went my steady breathing and my focus for this yoga class. Now, all I could think about was how yoga (the very meaning of which is ‘union’) had its own contribution to the list of segregating, man-pandering buzzwords.

Man bun, man bag, mantyhose, bromance, man dates, manscaping, guyliner, mankinis. The list of heterosexual, man-friendly terms for typically female styles goes on.

I have no problem with the actual phenomena themselves. Men can wear buns. Men can do yoga. Men can enjoy wearing pantyhose. I think at this point it’s safe to conclude that men and women have a lot of – gasp – similar interests. It’s these ‘man’ prefixes that drag us back to times when our grandparents used gender qualifiers like ‘lady doctor’ or ‘male nurse’ to depict certain genders as potentially unequipped for particular roles.

Except this time, these terms arise almost exclusively in relation to men. Some people brush off the ‘man bun’ as a harmless buzzword, but it actually creates a culture of self-consciousness and fear of emasculation among men. Words like ‘broga’ belittle guys because they reinforce the idea that a man’s masculinity is so fragile that it has to be reaffirmed every time he enters a typically female context.

It is this typically female context that underlies the whole problem. These terms serve as modern reiterations of the myth that femininity is linked to weakness. So many men don’t take yoga as a serious form of exercise because the modern face of yoga is a young woman, despite flexibility being a quality beneficial to all genders. To me, ‘broga’ screams, “It’s okay, you’re doing a superior, man’s version of yoga”, reinforcing it as a typically feminine practice and a pursuit for the weak.

Yet, contrary to this perspective, yoga is the most brutal and strengthening form of exercise I’ve ever done. In fact, most typically ‘feminine’ pursuits I’ve tried have been brutal: pouring hot wax on my legs and ripping hairs out at their roots; spending long, sore hours in heels (although the harm behind these rituals is another issue for another article). Femininity clearly requires strength. Why do we belittle men who display any grain of it?

Interestingly, women pretty much never feel the need to reaffirm their femininity in a typically male context. If you look at the Broga Melbourne website, you’ll find an asterix that reveals the caveat, “For guys and gals!”. Similarly, on Mantyhose.net, the tagline reads “Hosiery fashion for women and men”. Tellingly, women are pretty comfortable being associated with men. In fact, we persevere in this man-world daily (am I right, ladies?). It’s clear here that in the case of ‘broga’ or ‘mantyhose’ it is less about catering to men’s needs and more about immediately branding the product as non-threatening to a man’s masculinity.

I was recently helping out at my sister’s recycled clothing store when a guy, embarrassed, asked her, “Uh sorry, but I’m not too good at figuring out which are men’s clothes and which are women’s clothes here.”

There’s only one obvious women’s rack at my sister’s store with dresses and the like. The rest of the stock is traditionally guys’ stuff: flannelette shirts, baggy tees, sports jackets and so on. I half expected a female customer to be the first to ask if they were actually in a men’s store. Yet flocks of young women come in and comfortably peruse the racks of unisex jumpers and jackets that have men’s clothing brands on the tags. My sister wanted to market her store as unisex and constantly moans to me about how she wishes one day a dude would come in and try on the floral skivvy.

As Charlotte Gainsbourg’s character says in the 1993 film The Cement Garden (and as Madonna sampled at the start of ‘What It Feels Like For A Girl’):

“Girls can wear jeans and cut their hair short, wear shirts and boots, ‘cause it’s okay to be a boy. But for a boy to look like a girl is degrading, because you think that being a girl is degrading.”

The 2015 version of this speech might go something more like:

“Guys can wear tights, and tie their long hair in buns, carry handbags and yoga mats, but only if we add reassuring manly prefixes because hey, looking like a girl is still degrading.”

Maybe the man bag, mantyhose and brogi are in some ways a step away from harmful hyper-masculine ideals. They have created this buffer zone in which gender lines are slowly being blurred for certain traditionally feminine things.

But come on people: this is a plushy-arse buffer zone. We don’t need to give a guy a pat on the head and reassure him we still believe he’s a man every time he dabbles in what is usually considered a feminine pursuit. It’s insulting to all men, women and genderqueer people. We are better than that.

If we did away with antiquated gender qualifiers, we’d all inhabit the world that little bit more freely – adorning buns and pantyhose and joining yoga without the spectre of the gender police.


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